Istanbul, November 16, 2020
If the Orthodox Church does not clearly proclaim the ecclesiology of a “First Without Equals,” in which the Patriarch of Constantinople enjoys not only a place of honor among his brother primates, but a place above them with special rights and responsibilities, it risks devolving into a Protestant-style federation of churches, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople believes.
Moreover, in his view, those Churches that abstained from the Council of Crete in 2016 will be judged harshly by history.
In a recent interview with the National Herald, the Patriarch stated that the unity of the Orthodox Church is the greatest agony of his soul today, reports Romfea.
Both the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew himself personally have done much for the unity of the Church, the Patriarch told the Greek outlet. He recalled that several synaxes of the primates have been convened under his patriarchy, the latest of which took place in Geneva in 2016 as a preparation for that summer’s Cretan council.
“The culmination of our efforts for pan-Orthodox unity and cooperation was the promotion of the preparation and the convocation of the Great and Holy Synod of Crete, which made incisions and put forward an Orthodoxy that cheerfully gives a good testimony to the world and looks to the future, without passively and nostalgically recalling the past,” the Patriarch claimed.
Recall that the council was held without the participation of four Local Churches, leaving the majority of Orthodox Christians unrepresented. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced on June 1, 2016 that it would not attend the Council; the Antiochian Church announced on June 6 that it would not attend; and the Georgian Orthodox Church announced on June 10 that it would not attend.
The Churches did not simply withdraw, but rather called for the council to be postponed so that their respective issues could be addressed. The Moscow Patriarchate specifically proposed holding an emergency pre-conciliar session for just this purpose, but Patriarch Bartholomew refused to do so (and thus the Moscow Patriarchate also pulled out of the council), choosing instead to plow ahead without full pan-Orthodox unity.
Nevertheless, Pat. Bartholomew is sure the decision of these Churches will be condemned by history: “Those who did not participate in this council, while participating in its preparation, will be judged by history. I am sure, however, that they will not be praised for this act.”
And turning specifically to ecclesiology, the Patriarch spoke of the danger of becoming Protestants if the Church does not confess his primacy without equals: “We Orthodox must be self-critical and reexamine our ecclesiology if we do not want to become a federation of Protestant churches.”
While it is widely held throughout the Orthodox Church that Pat. Bartholomew’s ecclesiology represents a non-Orthodox deviation from Tradition, in this interview he did not openly speak of a need to “change” Orthodox ecclesiology, as some outlets have reported.
Rather, he is pointing to those Local Churches that do not confess his “First Without Equals” ecclesiology, telling them to return to the Tradition of the Ecumenical Councils, as he sees it.
He stated: “Since in our ordination as bishops we swear to abide by the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, we must admit that in an indivisible Ecumenical Orthodoxy there is a ‘First,’ not only of honor, but a ‘First’ with special responsibilities and canonical competencies granted by the Ecumenical Councils.”
“This is a guarantee of the preservation of unity over time and the common testimony of Orthodoxy in today’s world,” the Patriarch concluded.
Recall that four Cypriot hierarchs—Metropolitans Athanasios of Limassol, Nikiforos of Kykkos, and Isaiah of Tamassos, and Bishop Nicholas of Amathountos—recently reminded Pat. Bartholomew that his primacy is “not a ‘primacy of power,’ but a ‘primacy of responsibility and service’ for the unity of Orthodoxy, and for the correctness of faith and love.”